HAVE a go. Create chaos. Play with belief in your own ability, not fear of making mistakes.
The positive mood coming out of the Scotland camp as they prepare for their first home game under Vern Cotter is unmistakable. Quiet and undemonstrative, the tall New Zealander may be as far removed from the stereotype of a cavalier character as it is possible to get, but he has nonetheless inspired his squad to play with an admirable spirit of adventure.
Today’s game against Argentina is not only the first of the three Autumn Tests, with the All Blacks and Tonga to come on successive Saturdays. It is also the first step on the road to the World Cup, and, as on any long and perilous journey, travelling hopefully is an absolute necessity.
For many Scotland sides of the recent past, the hope with which they embarked on campaigns was fragile and easily extinguished. But the optimism engendered by Cotter looks like being a lot more substantial than that.
Stuart Hogg, for one, is looking forward to playing the brand of rugby introduced by the new head coach. “We’ve been training hard, and today was about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s,” the Glasgow full-back said yesterday. “Hopefully tomorrow we can go out and create a lot of chaos.
“Creating chaos sounds pretty nuts, but for us it’s organised chaos. It’s battering boys in rucks, it’s creating quick ball, it’s playing in the right areas of the pitch. We have a structure in place which hopefully will break them down pretty quickly and allow us to put some points on the board.
“We would like to get the win and we’re doing everything we can. We’re trying to play a different brand of rugby. Get quick ball, play on the front foot, put the carrot in front of the donkey by kicking the ball in behind them and keeping the forwards going forward.
“It’s an exciting way to play. It’s basically a free rein to do what we want – within certain restraints, obviously. It’s a big thing for him, as he wants us to express ourselves out on the field and on the training pitch.”
Of course, that phrase “within certain restraints” is absolutely vital, and Scotland are certainly not going to try to play Barbarians-style rugby from kick-off to final whistle. There will be times when control is crucial, when percentages have to be played, and when the dispassionate boot of Greig Laidlaw, not Hogg’s exuberant broken-play excursions, will be the home team’s weapon of choice.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
But if and when that control is established, Scotland have, in Hogg and debutant centre Mark Bennett among others, the artistry needed to get on top. “I’m excited about this next chapter we’re about to create and so are the rest of the boys,” Hogg continued.
“‘Have a go’ is something we like to say when somebody is on the ball. Instead of looking to pass or kick, try and beat players. Side-step, do what you want to do. He [Cotter] is big on that and that excites me and a lot of other boys in the team.
“The past is in the past and we can’t do anything about that now. It’s about the future for us. We’re trying to play an exciting brand of rugby and the boys are very excited about this next chapter. We’ve felt at times that things weren’t going our way and there were a lot of mistakes, but it’s about how we react to mistakes and move forward. Now we have a young team in place and if we can stay fit and perform to the best of our abilities we could be a team that goes a long way.
“The big thing is that there’s a World Cup at the end of the year. But there is a lot to happen before then. That’s a long-term goal, but the short-term goal is week by week and game by game. Argentina is a massive test for us here at BT Murrayfield, and we’re excited. I just wish it was now to be honest.”
Cotter’s bid to turn the team into have-a-go heroes has been one theme of the week. The other, a necessary antidote lest all this optimism become too infectious, has been a constant warning about the versatility of this Pumas side, who have left their traditional ten-man rugby far behind.
“Argentina of old were pretty much forwards-orientated with a little bit of backs play here and there,” Hogg said. “Now they’re 15 great individuals and when they come together collectively they’re an outstanding team.
“They mix their play up, forward and backs, little chip kicks. Defensively we have to be on the ball and shut their key players down. They have quality individuals who will be trying to create key moments in the game. It’s up to us to stop them.”
Assistant coach Duncan Hodge backed up that analysis, pointing out that more regular games against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have helped Argentina mature into a far more complete outfit. “They’ve changed a lot as a team, specially since they’ve entered the Championship,” he said. “Historically they were really strong up front – scrum and lineout, kicking 10s – but there are some quality individuals in the back line that’s playing against us.
“They played some good rugby, scored some good tries and caused some good defences issues in the Championship, so they’re a team to be respected. They’ve got a pretty complete game now.
“They can mix it how they want, so it’s important that we do as well. There could be things tomorrow they haven’t seen before. Who knows?
“We’ve got some mobile, skilful players out there, and you mould the game plan to fit that. But we shouldn’t forget we’re playing against good quality opposition, and there are certain aspects of your performance you have to get right. We’re unlikely to win the game by playing in our back third the whole time. We have to transfer the pressure on to them, we have to get our kicking game right – all these things add up. It’s not as simple as saying we’re going to change our attitude.”
True enough, but there is little doubt that Scotland now have the right attitude.
And if they do get the basics right as well, that attitude could be enough to give them a narrow win.
15 S Hogg
14 S Maitland
13 M Bennett
12 A Dunbar
11 T Seymour
10 F Russell
9 G Laidlaw (capt)
1 A Dickinson
2 R Ford
3 E Murray
4 R Gray
5 J Gray
6 R Harley
7 B Cowan
8 A Ashe
16 S Lawson
17 G Reid
18 G Cross
19 J Hamilton
20 A Strokosch
21 H Pyrgos
22 D Weir
23 S Lamont
15 J Tuculet
14 J Imhoff
13 M Bosch
12 J M Hernandez
11 M Montero
10 N Sanchez
9 M Landaj
1 M Ayerza
2 A Creevy (capt)
3 R Herrera
4 T Lavanini
5 J C Guillemain
6 R Baez
7 J O Desio
8 L Senatore
16 M Cortese
17 L N Paz
18 N T Chaparro
19 L Ponce
20 F Isa
21 T Cubelli
22 S G Iglesias
23 H Agulla
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS